Paul Whalen

Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories (The New York Times)

In a story about why people believe in conspiracy theories, The New York Times points to research by Dartmouth’s Paul Whalen and Brendan Nyhan.

Events such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks result in “powerlessness and uncertainty,” the Times writes, triggering a part of the brain called the amygdala, which Whalen, a professor of psychological and brain sciences, studies. Whalen says that while the amygdala does not do anything on its own, it does prompt the rest of the brain to over analyze, according to the Times.

The article also makes reference to what Nyhan, an assistant professor of government, and a colleague have identified as the “backfire effect.” According to the Times, the political scientists “showed that efforts to debunk inaccurate political information can leave people more convinced that false information is true than they would have been otherwise.”

Read the full story here, published 5/21/13 by The New York Times.